By Becky Aubut
NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. — The Dead Theologian Society (www.deadtheologiansociety.com) is breathing new Spiritual life into the students at UMass Dartmouth.
As stated on its website, the name is a take from the popular 1989 movie, “Dead Poets Society,” where in the film teens learn to appreciate the writings of poets and various authors who had gone before them. In 1997, Eddie Cotter and some of the teens from his youth group at Church of the Annunciation Parish in Altamonte Springs, Fla., were discussing how it would be very cool to help other young people appreciate the richness, beauty and truth of their Catholic faith by discovering the writings and lives of the saints. Since the saints are “dead” only by the world’s standards but are certainly alive with Jesus in Heaven, the name “Dead Theologians Society” seemed like a winner. Shortly thereafter Eddie moved to Newark, Ohio to work at St. Francis de Sales Parish, where the first DTS meeting was held.
Though many young people today may be unfamiliar with the movie, “Dead Poets Society,” the name still serves the group well. The Dead Theologians Society doesn’t dwell on death, and is certainly not a morbid or depressing program.
Addressing the reality that all individuals will face death and it will truly be one of the most important events in our lives, Sacred Scripture in Sirach 7:36 states: “In whatever you do, remember the end of your life, and you will never sin.”
Catholics are taught not to fear death, but to fear sin and that individuals must live this life with a sense of responsibility and a direction that leads to Heaven. The title of the apostolate indicates to young people that it is not some “soft” program, but rather appreciating the tough issues in life and through the examples of the saints, the Dead Theologians Society will inspire the youth of today to become the saints of tomorrow.
Father David Frederici, director of Catholic Campus Ministry (www.umassdcatholics.com), heard about the national program a few years ago and thought “it was a unique approach to have high school or college students come together, because it’s important for any age group to come together. What’s neat about this is it’s unique because it’s connected right to our faith. We believe the fulfillment of our lives and the goal of our lives is eternal life with God.”
DTS focuses on that goal, learning about the saints’ lives and his or her struggles. As it stresses on its website, at a DTS meeting, young people are inspired by the lives of saints, grow in their prayer life and deepen their knowledge of the Catholic faith in a way that engages them while allowing time to grow in community and socialize.
DTS is an apostolate for high school age teens grades nine through 12 and/or college age young adults ages 18-24, but is not a mix of the two; UMass Dartmouth does not mix the age groups, as well, said Father Frederici.
“Another important aspect of the group is it teaches us to pray for those who are in purgatory,” said Father Frederici. “It educates and at the same time there is important work [being done] praying for the souls in purgatory, as well as just nurturing our own Spiritual life.”
The DTS motto, “Mortuum Mundo — Vivum in Christo” is Latin for “Dead to the World — Alive in Christ.” This is inspired by Romans 6:11 where St. Paul tells us to be dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus. The saints studied are alive in Christ forever. DTS members seek to always become more alive in Christ through their Catholic faith and “dead” to the negative influences of the world.
To officially become a member of the group, one has to participate in three meetings. Upon induction, a member receives a sweatshirt with the DTS logo, along with a ceremony welcoming them into the group.
“They recognize there’s a responsibility that comes with membership,” said Father Frederici. “It’s living our faith and a means for students to take responsibility for our faith and to learn more about what it means to be Catholic.”
The Dead Theologian Society is in transition this fall semester after losing its main core members last spring semester. There will be a new meeting area for the apostolate as Father Frederici will be shifting the meetings back over to the main campus from campus ministry’s Newman House: “We have a lot students who don’t have cars and [meetings] are dependent on whether they can walk over. The university just put a new wireless access into the reflection room,” he said.
The new wireless setup will help Father Frederici continue to use videos by Bishop Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles: “It’s a multimedia approach so we’re not just talking to each other all the time,” explained Father Frederici. “Bishop Barron is great in his presentations.”
Pope Francis has thrown a spotlight back on saints and renewed an interest in learning more about them, especially in his namesake, St. Francis. It’s the simplicity of each saint’s life that speaks to each student because college students are dealing with complex issues in their own lives. Not only do they discover the human side to each saint, but they also find there’s a saint for everyone.
“I try to integrate saints into homilies on campus, as well, because there is a saint for everyone,” said Father Frederici. “That’s what inspires us and gives us help when we’re working our way through life. It reminds them of where they are because there are some saints whose entire life was filled with virtue and others, um, not so much in the beginning of life. There’s a saint out there we can relate to, and it connects us to God in a way we didn’t think possible.”